Thursday, October 24, 2019

Any hope for Lebanon's popular revolt?

Middle East Transparent 23 October 2019

 All over Lebanon people remain in the streets protesting, chanting, singing, dancing,  even organizing live concert shows! It does not look as if it will calm down soon.
For the first time, all regions in Lebanon are witnessing the same protest, at the same time.

For the first time, all sects are equally participating. One could even say that all political parties’ members are in the streets dissenting with their own leadership. We even hear protesters trying to defend their historic leaders but then saying, ‘all of them’ means all of them, a slogan aimed to say that all the political class is responsible and should be changed. The army and the security forces are protecting the protest.

Indeed, an unheard of phenomenon in Lebanon, and quite rare worldwide. The numbers are impressive. Almost a third of the population is in the streets. Virtually unbelievable. Can you imagine protests of about 25 million in Germany? Or 21 million in England?

What can happen? and what is the solution, or can constitute a victory for the protest?

If the country and economy are at a standstill for long, the Lebanese Pound may collapse and whether a new government is formed or not, nobody can save the economy when the tumble starts. Nobody knows what will happen then. Surely not a victory for the protest movement.

The protestors demands are, if grouped many, but can be summarized by: put an end to corruption and nepotism, hold the responsible accountable, and return the stolen moneys. Valid demand, but who will do it, what is practically the process? A resignation of the Cabinet will not change anything as it is the same political parties in Parliament that will nominate a new Prime Minister. All agree that the main problem is not Saad Hariri himself.

Another resounding demand is resignation of the President, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker. Impossible demand, there is no process in law and if it happens, then who rules the country and form a new authority that can herald the demands? Some are calling out of despair for military rule. Luckily, this is highly improbable in Lebanon where there is no tradition or culture of militarism.

In short, the main demand is change. Changing the political class and system. The only possible solution is early Parliamentary elections according to a new election law. The Parliament will nominate the Prime Minister who nominates the ministers. All reforms can be implemented through this process if the elections lead to renewing the political class. The responsibility for renewing the political class will fall on the people protesting today in the streets.

How to do it? Focus the protest on demanding early Parliamentary elections. Hariri has declared that he is ready to call for early Parliamentary elections if this is what the protesters want. He said it twice. Why not use this way out?

The people dominating the parliament today which is coalition of Hezbollah, Aoun, and Amal will try not to go for it. Under the street pressure, they might accept hoping to manipulate the street once again through using sectarian populism.

In my opinion, this is the only solution.

If the Cabinet resigns now, then the Hezbollah, Aoun, and Amal will nominate a Cabinet that is even more their own. Freedoms and foreign policy will fall totally under their grasp, and they will crush, Syria style, any future protest.

Better aim for the people to take their destiny in hand and call for early elections. If they fail to dethrone the actual sectarian lords, then it is their responsibility.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Anger in Lebanon, to where?

I have mixed feeling about the two days of anger in Lebanon.
I will not call it revolt or revolution, anger is a best description.

People have been living for long, and more so during the last two months in a state of continuous stress and anxiety.

They got used living in a country where electricity and water are scarce. They managed to find private solutions. Building generator or illegal private providers of electricity in each neighbourhood. Illegal private companies who sell citerns for all use water. Expensive bottled drinking water. 
The result is that for years they are paying two electricity bills and three water payments, one for official utilities, one buying water cisterns, and one buying bottled water.
They got used to paying the price in pollution and quality of life. Generators churn fumes in the air and water is salty and often unsafe to drink.
On top of it, subsidizing electricity (sic) is costing the country 25% of the country debt on yearly basis. A bizarre occurrence:  electricity is subsidized while the private person pays two electricity bills that amount to the most expensive electricity per kilowatt in the whole world!

They got used to a cloud of bad smell enveloping the capital since the garbage crisis started 5 years ago.
They got used to a traffic situation that is so complex that you cannot move around without grinding your teeth.
They got used to unjustified price hikes in most consumables, food products, and 'luxuries'.
They got used to waiting ages for website loading and suden 5 minutes cuts in connectivity. In short they got used to a slow, unreliable, and very expensive internet connection.
They got used to the most expensive mobile phone rates in addition to being unreliable.

They got used to so many governmental services failing, tried to find private solutions being entrepreneurs, to the cost of increasing dramatically their cost of life.

Suddenly and a year ago, they started being bombarded by politicians and the sensationalist media of warning of a country going bankrupt. Reforms are badly needed. Then the reform plans started to becoming actions to balance the budget through the levying of undiscriminate taxes rather than cutting spending in a public sector that became a hungry ogre eating all taxes and government income.

Two months ago the campaign was hyped and exchange rates became unstable. The level of anxiety increased and reached dangerous levels. Then came the news of a tax on WhatsApp use. Free communication was a breathing space for young people. It was the drop that topped the vase of despair.

An explosion of anger was the results.
Young people took to the streets, families and older people followed them, disturbers and anarchists followed.

What is encouraging is that those who took to the street come from all religions and sects. What is remarkable and hopeful is that the Shia civil society joined the protest and took to the streets for a first time since long out of the control of Hezbollah and Amal. This could be a return to the unity and secular national identity the country witnessed on 14th of March 2005.

What is worrying is that the movement is clearly and until now a protest movement without focus or leadership. A factor that might undermine its continuity or ability to drive real change.
What is more worrying is that if the movement disturbs the status quo without leading to solutions, it might drive the country who is on the edge to economic chaos.

Lebanon is wobbling on the edge of hope and hopelessness. I am afraid.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The story of Syria, Turkey, and the Arab League

I do not like what Erdogan is doing in Syria though he has the tacit approval of the US, Russia, and the EU. They make statements but if he manages to insure the safe zone quickly, they would be happy. It would solve the problem of some refugees and would reign the separatist hopes of the Syrian Kurds.
If he fails to do it swiftly, then they can pretend to have been against the incursion and that they really care for Kurdish hopes.

I might be wrong but this is how it appears if we follow talk versus action including the Security Council confusion.

What I do not understand is the position of the Arab League.

Syria has been sanctioned and is no more attending the Arab League meetings. This is clear position that Assad is no more the legal representative of Syria. Russia and Iran are more than present in Syria. In a friendly tug of war they both rule Syria.
The Americans controle an area and have a say while Israel is allowed to rule the air.
Almost half the Syrian population are refugees in neighbouring countries and the Assad regime has failed or do not want to return them.

How can they talk about Syrian sovereignty and Turkish invasion?
The targeted safe zone is a region that is not under the control of the government or the Russians, or the Iranians. It is mostly a US controlled area.
Anyway during all the talks about a peaceful solution of the Syrian crisis whether in the UN or the following parallel conferences initiated by Putin, the Syrian Assad government and Arab League were the invisible missing presence.
The Arab League lost its right to defend Syria when for a decade they stood watched the Syrian people slaughtered by Assad, Daesh, Russia, and the Iranians.

So why now are they riding their high their horses? Surely not out of care for Syria, rather emanating from regional competition with Turkey. But they are hopeless to really face Turkey. Though they might be able to hurt its economy by curbing Arab tourism in Turkey.

Ayway Erdogan policies have weakened Turkey economically. Sanctions from the US and the EU might be a blow that Turkey will not be able to fend.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

What about the US dollar crisis in Lebanon?

I will not mention the economic crisis and the corruption.
I will not mention the crazy decision of politicians to approve, just before the elections, a salaries increase for public sector employees.
These same politicians have repetitively acknowledged that the Lebanese public sector is overstaffed.
I will not mention economic indicators that prove the evasion in customs taxes.
I will no mention the debt increase due to the electricity subsidies deficit

Let us just try to look at some of what has and is happening in direct relation with what has been dubbed "unavailability of US dollars in the market".

First let me explain that we are not talking about a crunch in foreign currency.
We are talking about banknote US dollar.
There is no problem in transferring or issuing letters of credit or paying by credit card or checks.
But if you want to withdraw in banknote more than 5,000.- the banknote may not be available.

I wonder if I could, in any country of the European Union, go to the bank and ask for 100,000 US dollars in banknote, and expect to get them on the spot!
I wonder if I could in the US go the bank and ask for 100,000 Euros in banknote, and expect to get them on the spot!

You used to be able to do it in Lebanon, and the Lebanese are surprised why they cannot practice such irregular action today!


But what is behind the 'crisis' ?

  • US banknotes are seeping to Syria in a clear attempt by the Syrian regime to break sanctions. Maybe from Syria to Iran?
  • Hezbollah needs US dollar banknotes to pay its due from outside the banking sector as sanction are being religiously implemented by Lebanese banks after the closure of Jammal bank.
  • The variation in the exchange rate is less than 5% which should not be a real problem for importers who import in USD and sell in Lebanese pound when their profits hit sometimes unlawfully 25%. 
  • Pricing and paying in USD is contrary to the law yet it is regular practice which drives citizens to carry USD banknotes instead of Lebanese Pounds creating a parallel economy.
Conclusion: the problem is in the inability or unwillingness of the Government to uphold the rule of law + extreme individualism of the population with no ethics of nationalism + political parties that rely on populism and sectarianism to rule with no concern for national interest. 

and surely, a culture of acceptable corruption and disregard for laws.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Soudan: is the world abandoning hope?

The “great revolution” of Sudan has succeeded and the Government and people and will now rebuild and restore the values ​​of human coexistence and social cohesion in the country as they try and turn the page on three decades of “abhorrent oppression, discrimination and warfare,” Prime Minister Abdullah Adam Hamdok told the United Nations on Friday evening.

Seems nobody is hearing. Why?

Bashir, the President of Soudan who was on the International Court list of wanted persons is now in prison. He was removed by a popular uprising that did not deviate from peaceful protests despite the violent response by the dictator.

For month the people of Soudan were in the streets, women had an important role during the protests and have a place and voice now in the new government.
Yet the US is reluctant to remove Soudan from the list of countries that back terrorism. Though not long before the revolution, Trump was holding talks with Bashir…

When South Soudan broke away from Soudan, the world ran to support the secession and funded development, removing the debt of the country to help it. Today nobody is ready to talk of lightening the burden of a country that was a victim of the Cold War, when the world turned the away from a military Islamist coup that plunged Soudan into despair for decades.

Maybe values have no more any say in foreign policy. Seems that all the talk of freedom and fairness of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, were just propaganda to fight the Soviet Union.
It is so sad.

Yet hope prevails today in Soudan, and I have faith that they will move forward.
A young Soudanese man that works as a labourer in Lebanon went home for Eid Adha, just after the fall of the regime. He came back with a feeling of pride and hope.
He said that hope prevailed. People were smiling and laughing. He told me that before, everyday people fought on crowded public transport vehicles. Fights that often turned into shouting matches and fist fights. Today, people talk and try to solve problems by negotiation. It is like if the culture of the country changed.

He also told me a story that I cannot confirm, however, he has no reason to lie.
He said that when 300 young people were found killed by the security forces, the same night, a jeep filled with Kalashnikovs stopped in the square of his neighbourhood and the driver just left it there unattended. The elders of the neighbourhood immediately went and surrounded the car, forbidding the youngsters to take the weapons telling them that it was a ploy by Bashir. If one round was shot, then the army could break the sit-inns violently and pretend that there were terrorists among the demonstrators. And as we learned, these days all is permitted under the title 'War against terrorism'.

Maybe the Soudanese learned the lessons of Syria.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Lebanon's unbelievable saga with electricity: Kafkaesque!

They are oblivious, poor children growing up in such an environment!
People complain about everything, among them electricity, but it is not a priority though all financial reports say that almost 50% of the debt is due to electricity subsidies. Fuel for electricity generation is subsidized because... nobody really  knows why. Some say because cost of production is high, some say because whole areas in the country do not settle their bills...

Let me explain. After the end of the civil war, 30 years ago, electricity was almost fully restored. Then, after 2006 Israeli attack, it was also almost fully restored.
Then, God knows why the country entered into a cycle of daily at last 3 hours electricity cuts that sometimes increase the 12 hours a day.

Yet, this is how Beirut looks at night.
How come?

The Lebanese are ingenious as individuals and traders by nature. Maybe a remnant of the phonetician era?

Each building set up a generator of its own and entrepreneurs set neighborhood generators and sell 5 or 10 amperes of electricity to households. A quite lucrative business.
Meanwhile, for a decade politicians are discussing solutions and lately came up with the weird idea to rent electricity generation vessels. The cost, more than building new plants or buying from neighboring countries. Some say it is corruption, some say incompetence...
Anyway, the proud Lebanese politicians refuse to sell the national assets of the country and insist on allowing private generator owners to do business from outside the economic system, not paying taxes or following any regulations to prevent pollution.

Conclusion, thousands of generators are churning fumes in the air happily every day. And believe me, you can feel it in your lungs and head!

Yet, when I talk to people, they complain, but honestly are not concerned except for the extra monthly bill they are paying.
Why should they care when they really do not suffer from electricity cuts.

Whenever there is a cut, we jump start the generator and presto! Electricity is back.

What these people do not see cannot hurt them. They do not see the fumes that these generators churn int the air they breath. 

They are oblivious, poor children growing up in such an environment!

Monday, September 30, 2019

What is happening in Austria?


I came across this article and found that it is quite good as to analysis and background. Take the time to read it.

Yet, for me it does not address the main issue. Why did Kurz despite his failings get a 37 per cent support?
Maybe because the Left is doing bad rather than Kurz doing well?

The saddest thing is that Austria is electing a politician promising tax cuts, meaning downgrading a social net that made quality of life in Austria one of the best in the world.
Maybe soon Austrian will start experiencing an NHS like system with long doctors and hospital waiting time. Then they will feel the need to run towards private medical insurance and private pensions.

Sad, I wonder if they understand what they voted for.

In the past, whether the Right won or the Left, the country was managed by a coalition of OVP and SPO, mainstream right and left.
This made a balance that preserved both competitive economy with superb social net system.

They never experienced a full rule of the Right with tax cuts, disregard for wealth distribution, and active destruction of the social net system.

What is really sad is that Social Democrats and Greens are not forming a coalition while in reality they meet over so many subjects and social issues.
Big business cannot be green, and most probably damage will be done before the Greens realize the real price of an alliance with Kurz.

Let's wait and see.
I just hope that populism and the failure of social democrats will not ruin a country that until now was a synonym of good life.

Though sadly many of its inhabitants do not understand or realize their luck.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Brexit: waiting for Godot

I feel and sound like a broken recorder.

Who is responsible for Brexit, why Brexit, is it possible that people are blind to the consequences of their choice, do those who voted Brexit hate Europeans or have they been duped about the benefits of insulare Britain, are they ready to sacrifice Scotland and Ireland...
Honestly, there is no rational explanation. It is all about clich├ęs and populist politicians.

But behind Brexit there is another question that looms.
Why is the English political system as a whole and the Parliament in particular, failing to address Brexit?
Before Theresa May resigned we marathon voting in Parliament on motions related to solutions for the Brexit dilemma. Nothing came out of it, they could not agree.
Today, MPs barely pulled a vote against ''no deal Brexit''. The heroes of this vote are the Conservative deputies who sacrificed their careers to prevent a catastrophic outcome to Johnson's EU strategy.

Where is Labour in all of this? It would have been up to them to lead the country in another direction. Corbyn failed miserably.
He is a Eurosceptic himself who did not fight during the Brexit referendum on behalf of the 'remain vote'. But why? Europe defends workers rights, spearhead gender equality, protects the rights of minorities and freedom of sexual choices, issues strict environmental and health regulation on manufacturing, prevents the spread of genetically engineered crops. Aren't these aims and goals of what is called 'the left'?

Corbyn today has failed to lead on a solution to Brexit. He is not clear about a second referendum, he is not clear about Brexit strategy, he is not clear on anything. He is not trusted to lead a caretaker government and is not ready to compromise by appointing an acceptable person. And today, after the failed Johnson performance in Luxembourg, the buzz is that the EU does not trust Johnson, and equally does not trust Corbyn, so Europeans are starting to think that best for England to leave the EU as it is unstable and failing.

By exaggeration maybe, I would say the real culprit in the Brexit mess is Corbyn for his lack of leadership rather than any action he took or takes.

I am sad to say it, I am mainly disappointed.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Are we all bigots?

By We, I mean all those who are offended by Trump’s racist remarks or Johnson’s sexist terminology, or … in short, by the discourse that have seeped into political life all over the world and that is dubbed by many as populism.

We should take a deeper look at the reasons. A great number of voters are electing politicians that are ‘saying it as is’ without pandering to political correctness. Why? it is not enough to dismiss all of them as uneducated, bigoted, or stupid.
It is not true.

Look honestly into your deepest emotions, even if you do not like them.
Don’t you feel irritated when you see a fully veiled woman walking the roads of Paris, London, Vienna, Berlin, or Beirut? I do.
Don’t you feel irritated when you see persons behaving in a manner that is not in line with the classical ‘proper behaviour in your country? Whether talking loudly or getting bathrooms wet in airport for ablution purposes? I do.
Don’t you sometimes feel that some feminists are taking harassment to excess. I do.
And I could go on forever about small insignificant irritations that could put me in the corner of bigots and sexists.

Yet, I am a woman activist, a human rights activist, and a person who does not believe that cultures clash. Rather I believe that cultural interactions enrich.
Anyway, what separate people is not culture, it is stage of development.

But I cannot deny my human deep dark emotions. What separate me from an extreme right or white supremacist person or bigot, or just a person afraid of the other he does not know, is that I know how to analyse these emotions and put them where they really belong.

We need to understand that adopting a superior elitist discourse is the main reason people that vote for the extreme right. We do not acknowledge, respect, and discuss their fears.

We and the Left all over the world lost the connection to other people’s fears and concerns.
We became the bigots.

She told me: I landed in Beirut

And what a shock!

After two months away in one of Europe's best quality life cities, it is a real shock!
Started on the plane. Noise and people talking at loud voice, then the moment the plane landed and way before the seat belt sign off, a real stampede. But before that, a bad smell seeping into the plane.

The airport was not too bad as to speed of processing and bag arriving quickly. But then, maybe because it is low season. Will have to wait and see.
The temperature according to the captain on the plane was 26 degrees, so was hoping for nice weather. What a mistake! Humidity so high that you feel like suffocating, or is it the pollution, I do not know.

The trip from the airport to home quite intriguing. At 11 pm the city is buzzing with life and full of lights. I wonder, why don't the government privatize electricity, it already is. Lebanese are ingenuous and managed to have alternate sources as the public electricity service is failing, but at what cost; generators churning pollution into the air!

In bed reading trying to settle for a night sleep, could not block the noise of people laughing and talking loudly though all my windows are closed. There is a definite buzz in the air that never stops.
This morning woke up to an electricity cut....

Looking forward to a breakfast of Mankoushe or maybe foul (fava beans), nothing can top Lebanese food!
Oh yes, I forgot my internet experience.
Connecting to my accounts, one must get used to click and wait until one is connected, as to updates, don't even mention, expect long long delays. The browsing experience in Lebanon teaches you patience.

Anyway, Beirut is a lively city that one might would enjoy visiting as a tourist, but for living, quality of life is not an option I would choose.

So yeah, a shock, but am not complaining, I will try to enjoy the food and the buzz keeping in my mind that I have the option to leave for a break when it becomes unbearable.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Cannot believe it!

Boris Johnson in a strategy to sneak a no deal Brexit asked the Queen to suspend Parliament, and she agreed!

I cannot believe it! 

What type of democracy is this where the Queen or the PM of can have Parliament suspended thus shutting up the opposition!

It reminds me of Erdogan and Putin.

Some time ago I wrote
Boris Johnson is the least to say controversial.
The next Prime Minister will decide the fate of Great Britain. How to approach Brexit will shape the future of England, Scotland, North Ireland, and Whales.
Yet Johnson might soon become Great Britain Prime Minister without being voted into the premiership. He will be designated by a limited number of MPs. The Conservative wide electorate also does not have a word to say. And the will of the people of Scotland who did not even vote for Brexit became totally irrelevant.
I wonder if this is democracy or the failure of the almighty British democracy?
Today I am just sad...  very sad.... it is the fall of a democracy that was a model to the world.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A vegan's heaven!

Honestly, I am not a person who understands the rationale behind being a vegan. I always wondered about what would such a person eat.
A dinner in Beirut Lebanon opened my eyes.

Lebanon prides itself for a rich Mediterranean diet. Mezze is a tradition where one dines on a spread of small dishes while drinking Arak (a sort of Ouzo). The variety of dishes is mind boggling and delicious.

Some of these dishes are:

  • Hummus everybody knows what it is, 
  • Tabbouleh everybody knows what it is, 
  • Falafel everybody knows what it is. In Lebanon it is served with a salad made of tomatoes, parsley, pickles and tahini sauce.
  • Chickpeas whole boiled swimming in sauce of lemon, garlic, and olive oil served hot to eat with flatbread
  • Foul Medammas fave beans boiled, mashed with garlic, lemon, and olive oil served with tomatoes and parsley to eat with flatbread
  • Mtabbal aubergine grilled and mashed with tahini, garlic, lemon, and topped with olive oil to eat with flatbread
  • Batata Harrah potatoes cut into small squares and fried with coriander
  • Mjaddarah rice and black lentils boiled together with fried onions, another type is done with burghul and lentils.
  • Beans salads, one is with wide white beans boiled then served with finely cut onion and parsley swimming in a sauce of lemon and olive oil, another is small beans boiled with tomato sauce and onions with chili beans, served cold topped with olive oil.
  • Squash cut in round thin slices, deep fried served topped with tahini sauce
  • Burghul boiled with tomatoes, olives and onions, served cold.
  • Aubergine grilled and cut into small squares served with small squared of tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, green paprika, and lemon.
  • Shakshoukeh Green paprika bells stuffed with coriander, garlic, and tomators and cooked as a whole bells with olive oil.
  • Stuffed wine leaves or aubergines, or squash, stuffed with a mixture of rice, tomatoes, garlic, onion and cooked in water and olive oil and lemon.
and so many others, I could spend hours describing the variety of Lebanese Mezze dishes that are delicious (yummy) and happen to be vegan!

Lebanese culinary culture has a lot to give.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Who is electing Britain next Prime Minister?

Boris Johnson is the least to say controversial.
The next Prime Minister will decide the fate of Great Britain. How to approach Brexit will shape the future of England, Scotland, North Ireland, and Whales.
Yet Johnsn might soon become Great Britain Prime Minister without being voted into the premiership. He will be designated by a limited number of MPs. The Conservative wide electorate also does not have a word to say. And the will of the people of Scotland who did not even vote for Brexit became totally irrelevant.

I wonder if this is democracy or the failure of the almighty British democracy?

Uxbridge on Boris Johnson: 'No one has seen him here in years'
“It’s not us the voters who are electing him, it’s his fan club who will make him prime minister and I don’t think at this stage anything he does will change their minds.”

“I wouldn’t vote for him but it’s not going to make a blind bit of difference what happened between him and his girlfriend. That’s how most people will see this,” said McNamara. Liam McNamara said he voted remain.

“Maybe, just maybe, the women in the Tory party who are electing the new leader will think twice about opting for Boris Johnson but, like Cherry, I guess it won’t matter,” said Rehmanji. Both Cherry and Rehmanji helped make Johnson the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in west London.

Lorraine Kimber’s elderly German friend Helen Lipskombe raised no objections when she described her hero Johnson as a “young Churchill”.
As they sipped their coffees, Lipskombe, 90, nodded her approval and interrupted Kimber’s gushing over the wannabe prime minister to say, “Yes, I love Boris too!”

Max Hastings: I was Boris Johnson’s boss: he is utterly unfit to be prime minister
The Tory party is about to foist a tasteless joke upon the British people. He cares for nothing but his own fame and gratification. Dignity still matters in public office, and Johnson will never have it. Yet his graver vice is cowardice, reflected in a willingness to tell any audience, whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later.
Like many showy personalities, he is of weak character. I recently suggested to a radio audience that he supposes himself to be Winston Churchill, while in reality being closer to Alan Partridge.